A lower court of the French Parliament on Wednesday approved a draft law that would make school bullying a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison, following bullying tragedies in France that have in some cases resulted in the deaths of children.
The proposed law was supported by Emmanuel Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer.
Blanquer said the law sent a strong message to society that “we will never accept the lives of our children being shattered”. As many as one in 10 French children are estimated to have been affected by bullying, and social networks are increasing the potential for public taunting and humiliation. Blanquer said the draft law was “a way of enforcing the values of the republic”.
“It’s not about sending children to prison,” Balanant stressed. “There is a justice system for minors that takes into consideration the accused’s age and powers of discernment.” But he said that criminal laws can set “the value system of a society”.
The new crime of “school bullying” applies to children and adults in schools and universities, including students as well as staff such as canteen service teams and break-time monitors. It would carry a maximum three-year jail term and a fine of up to €45,000 (£38,300). If a victim of school bullying kills themselves, or attempts to, the maximum penalty could rise to 10 years and €150,000.
In reality, the law would be unlikely to result in a rush of children getting custodial sentences – instead there would be new, community schemes to raise awareness on bullying that could be proposed as alternatives. The legislation also increases resources for prevention and education, as well as improving the provisions for children to take part in community educational schemes about bullying.